Thursday, February 12, 2009

Music for the Living and the Dead

I was sitting in choir practice a few weeks ago when someone brought up the prospect of the choir singing at a funeral. I do not recall who the subject of the conversation was, but I began considering my own death. Not that I was perturbed at or desirous of the effect, I was simply contemplating my own funeral. Now that Trillium and I have settled on where we are to be planted when that magnificent day arrives, I began to think about the program for the service. I thought that since I was to be the focus of attention, I ought to have a say in what transpires before I have no say at all.

I have only had one piece of music on my mind and heart when I have thought of the concluding ceremony. I fell in love with it the first time I ever heard it performed.


And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen !

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills ?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills ?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire !

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.

William Blake

I am an Anglo-phile. I have been my whole life. I prefer English literature over American, even though I have studied both. I have stood at the top of Sears' Tower in Chicago, but I prefer looking up at the facade of Queens College or contemplating the lovely interior of Radcliffe's Camera. The legend is, had my family remained in England instead of coming to the New World, we would have owned Oxford and we would have a larger burial plot than the one we presently have under a set of stairs in Westminster Abbey.

So as I sat there, contemplating my funeral, I said aloud, "I know what I would like you to sing at my funeral."

"What's that?" said our director, who can make broom handles sing and turn the meanest poem into musical glory.

"William Blake's 'Jerusalem'. You know, that same piece that was played at Harold Abrahams' funeral at the end of 'Chariots of Fire'."

Gordon chuckled, "Well, good luck. We probably will not be practicing that anytime soon."

I replied, "I am not hoping to have it performed anytime soon, but perhaps we ought to work it up just in case." The score has not appeared in our folders, so I have not been holding my breath.

About the same time that all of the morbidity appeared in our choir practice, Gordon introduced a piece by Gabriel Faure, "Cantique de Jean Racine" arranged by John Rutter. Jerolyn, our more than accomplished pianist, had already mastered the piece and when she began to play, I said to myself, "I can live or die by this". Faure had written the music when but a young man of nineteen in 1864 to accompany his paraphrasing of St. Ambrose's hymn "Consors paterni luminis" composed in the 4th Century AD. I never tire of it. Perhaps no one can ever tire of something wrought in divine passion and preserved in the amber of pure love.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I have the piece floating around in my music folders! Maybe it's a sign...

Bliss said...

I agree: John Rutter has the magic touch. The Tabernacle Choir's directors seem rather partial to Rutter's music, too. As always, this piece and others by Faure are transports of delight to my ears!

Katscratchme said...

I vote for Jennifer and Dara to speak at your funeral... They're probably the only ones who could come up with something to say that isn't completely depressing.
As for me, I'd probably be sobbing somewhere in the back.

Jen said...

People who get "twinkled" don't have funerals.